When family and friends learned that I was going to India, almost all of them have this question, “What will you do there?”.
India has never been a part of my travel bucket list. When a niece invited me to go with her there, I was hesitant at first. I did not have any interest and have no idea about the country as a tourist destination. Eventually I agreed to go for the experience of going somewhere off the beaten track. Except for searching on Google images of the places in the proposed itinerary, India was the first country that I went to that I did not research thoroughly. I decided to keep an open mind and just go with the flow as the trip progresses.
The Indira Gandhi International Airport in Delhi is modern which was a bit surprising for me. Most international flights to India arrive late in the evening so there was not much to see on the way to our hotel except for the heavy traffic even at a late hour.
I was in India for eight days with a group of fellow Filipinos. Being the seventh largest country in the world in terms of land area, it is almost impossible to cover the whole country in one trip. We did the most popular tour which is the classic Golden Triangle. For travelers with limited travel time, this is the best introduction to India covering three of the top tourist destinations in the country which are Delhi, Agra and Jaipur. For our trip, Bikaner was added.
India is a country of amazing diversity in terms of religion, cultural and artistic heritage, ancient traditions and awesome landscapes. Its culture is a blend of the past and present. As one of the oldest civilizations in the world, India despite the entry of modernization, the depth of its history and intensity of its culture remain intact which continue to amaze visitors. Its towns and cities have many remnants of a glorious past. These forts, palaces and affluent homes are testaments to a flourishing culture, pillars of strength, royalty and undying love.
All throughout the trip, India never stopped to surprise me. With my previous impression of it as a “poor” country, the grandeur of its amazing architecture was a revelation.
Gazing out the window of the tourist bus, the scenes unfolding never cease to amaze me. In the chaos of city life you suddenly see herds of cows and goats joining the traffic jungle. It is only in India that animals like cows, pigs and monkeys are part of the city streets. Cows are sacred in India. Buffalos are aplenty along the highways. Camel drawn carts are common.
Public buses in all forms are overcrowded with passengers even on the roof. A very common mode of public transportation are the auto rickshaws which are run by motor bikes. These too are overloaded with passengers sitting on top of one another. Motor bikes and bicycles are likewise everywhere. In India, traffic rules and lanes are unheard of. Cars go in all directions with many of them honking horns as loudly as they can. It is common to see different modes of transportation overflowing with all sorts of goods. Traffic is so bad. It takes so much time to travel even a short distance. There are just so many cars on the roads.
In 2017, the economy of India is the world’s sixth largest in terms of nominal GDP and the third largest by purchasing power parity according to Wikipedia. India is considered as a newly industrialised country and one of the fastest growing major economies. Yet despite these, India is still a country of extremes. There is a very wide gap between the few very rich and the poor. Mumbai is the financial and entertainment capital of India and Bangalore is the information technology capital. Both cities are very rich and ultra modern but they are not the real India. A major part of India remains to be very poor and in dire need of development. Being the second most populated country in the world is a major factor for the widespread poverty. Malnutrition and inadequate healthcare are problems too especially in the smaller cities and towns. Electricity is rationed with nine to twelve hours of power in a day depending on the size of the city or town. Road infrastructures are very lacking especially in the back roads where the roads are very rough and in desperate need for them to be concreted. Corruption is a major cause of the country’s many problems.
Everywhere in India, the people are very enterprising. The streets and highways never lack of stores. Some sell on the streets or makeshift stalls. The traditional weighing scales are still widely used.
India is a huge country and traveling on your own might be overwhelming especially in the back roads. Traveling from one place to another takes so long. Hygiene in India is generally below average. Unless in hotels or very reputable restaurants, many restrooms are mediocre. Tissue papers, hand sanitizers and wet wipes are very necessary. Foreigners are discouraged to eat just anywhere especially the street foods. Drinking bottled water only is highly recommended. Cases of having diarrhea are not uncommon. Some of the streets are filthy. Mosquitos are everywhere so insect repellant is a must have. As a foreigner in India, one may become a celebrity especially for those Indians coming from the rural areas which do not have a high influx of tourists. They would follow wherever you go. My group had this experience twice. Our tour guide had to ward them off from us. Such may be rude in most countries but it is part of the norm in India. This is the reason why women travelers are advised not to wear clothes that show too much skin so as not to attract attention because people will really openly stare. With all these to be considered, I highly recommend to avail the services of travel companies to have an almost hassle free vacation. Leave it to the experts to take care of everything. They can program the itineraries and activities as well as the accommodations and meals. Nothing beats having a tour guide constantly available to explain things, give information along the way, answer questions and most importantly, to ensure the safety of the guests. As for my group, we were very lucky to have a highly regarded tour guide. His name is Vijay, one of the best in India and he covers the whole country. Having an MBA in History, he is very knowledgeable. He also gave tips on the best locations or angles to take photographs. He frequently checked on our welfare. He helped us to see and appreciate the beauty of the places which we would have otherwise missed or not appreciate fully. How good is he? He needs to be booked between seven months to a year in advance.
One needs a visa to visit India. Citizens from more than 100 countries can apply for a 30 days e-tourist visa online at https://indianvisaonline.gov.in/visa/index.html in minimum of four days and maximum of thirty days before one is due to travel. Processing time is a maximum of 72 working hours. It is necessary to upload a passport size photograph and your passport. Validity of the passport has to be at least six months during travel and has at least two blank pages. If the application is approved, one is informed thru email with an attachment. This attachment should be printed and presented at the e-visa lane at Immigration upon arrival in India. The officer will place on the passport the e-visa stamp. Hence the term “Visa on Arrival”.
In recent years, India has experienced an increasing tourism industry. The world is discovering the beauty of the country. It is dubbed as an exotic destination. The Indians are generally nice. Language is not a problem since many Indians could understand and speak English because they were colonized by the British before. Personally, I feel that I barely scratched the surface of India. There is still so much that remains to be explored and discovered. It may be chaotic, mostly dusty, intimidating, squalid and overcrowded but India is still a wonderful country. I had a great time there and I would recommend it to people who would wish to visit a country that is off the beaten track, something different from the usual popular destinations in the western world or more modern Asia. The best time to go to India is during Winter between October to March. The temperatures are cooler.
I will write more on the places covered during the trip.